Your City Defined: The El Explained

If you're calling it the Market-Frankford Line, you've got it all wrong.

The El is what Philly lifers call the “Blue Line” or the Market-Frankford Line.


Why is The El called The El? 

The train, which takes riders from the Frankford Transportation Center to 69th Street, is elevated above the city except between 2nd and 40th streets, where it runs underneath Market Street. Because it’s the elevated train, it’s been called “The El” for forever.

A brief history of The El

Frankford Terminal, taken in 1918, before the construction of the Frankford El.
Frankford Terminal, taken in 1918, before the construction of The El. | Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The 5.25 mile-long Frankford Elevated section was built between 1915 and 1922 and began regular service from Northeast Philly to Center City on November 5, 1922.

Daily ridership on the line peaked at 250,000 in the 1940s. After years of shutting down The EL between midnight and 5am, SEPTA, in 2014 began all-night service, boosting its ridership to 15,000 riders a week.

The El and “A Love Letter For You”

The El train in Philadelphia rides past one of Stephen ESPO Powers Love Letter murals that says, "Open Your Eyes I See the Sunrise."
Photo by Adam Wallacavage / Mural Arts Philadelphia

While riding The El has typically been about getting from Point A to Point B, Philly-born graffiti artist Stephen Powers turned it into an art project in 2009.

Powers teamed up with Mural Arts Philadelphia to paint the epic “A Love Letter For You,” a series of rooftop murals between 45th and 63rd streets.

Today, Mural Arts occasionally offers a “Love Letters Tour”—usually around Valentine’s Day. In 2011, a local couple was even married on the special “Love Train,” with then-Mayor Michael Nutter officiating.

The practical info and map

A map of The El, or Market-Frankford Line, in Philadelphia

Additional reporting provided by Josh Middleton

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